Thursday 18 July 2019

Dress worn by Panti Bliss during ‘Noble Call’ speech to go on display at museum

The gown will form one of the artefacts of a new Rainbow Revolution exhibition.

Panti Bliss, real name Rory O’Neill, with the outfit worn by him when he made the ‘Noble Call’ speech during Ireland’s same-sex marriage referendum (Niall Carson/PA)
Panti Bliss, real name Rory O’Neill, with the outfit worn by him when he made the ‘Noble Call’ speech during Ireland’s same-sex marriage referendum (Niall Carson/PA)

By Michelle Devane, Press Association  

The mauve dress worn by Panti Bliss during her “Noble Call” speech is set to go on display at the National Museum of Ireland to coincide with this year’s Pride celebrations.

The impassioned oration by Rory O’Neill, also known as Panti Bliss, on the stage of the Abbey Theatre in 2014 about homophobia in Ireland helped to kick-start the national conversation on same-sex marriage ahead of the marriage equality referendum in 2015.

It has been viewed almost one million times.

The gown will now form one of the artefacts of a new Rainbow Revolution exhibition at Dublin’s Collins Barracks museum focusing on the most memorable moments of the LGBTI+ movement in Ireland from the 17th century up to the recent campaigns for equality.

ipanews_8c871c24-d187-46b1-906a-18787665afe1_embedded243741996
Rory O’Neill and director of the National Museum of Ireland Lynn Scarff (Niall Carson/PA)

It is the first time the country’s largest cultural institution is taking part in the Pride celebrations.

Mr O’Neill said he thought it was “nutty” at first when the museum said it wanted to display the dress.

“I wore it during a time when there was a lot going on for me and it resonates in my life,” he said.

“To me it felt very personal so it was nutty when the museum wanted it, but then it’s been sitting in the back of the wardrobe gathering dust for years so I thought they’ll look after it. So now it’s sort of brilliantly nutty that it’s behind glass in the museum.”

Mr O’Neill said he had no idea when he delivered the speech how significant it would become.

“People think that I really thought about what I was wearing because I knew it was going to be significant. But I had absolutely no idea, I just thought I was doing a gig at the time. I didn’t think anything of it. So this has come as much as a surprise to me as to anybody else.”

He said it was hugely important that the museum was taking part in Pride because “in the past, queer histories were all sort of hidden”.

Mr O’Neill said Roger Casement’s personal life was one of the best examples of where “people denied everything about him because they wanted to keep all that stuff hidden”.

“As a queer person, when you’re going around museums you’re looking for people like you but they were never shown really and if they were, they were excused away,” he said.

ipanews_8c871c24-d187-46b1-906a-18787665afe1_embedded243741998
Mr O’Neill with the outfit (Niall Carson/PA)

“I know a flaming queen when I see one in a painting but then the description says it’s just of the time, so I think it’s great that museums are recognising that there are other histories hidden from us in the past.”

He said the museum’s involvement was also important because some people believe gay rights are sorted.

“It is still really difficult to be a young LGBTI person,” he said.

“It’s one thing to have your flags outside Dublin city council, but it’s quite another thing to be on the street at 2am, or on the night bus.”

He advised any young person who was grappling with their sexuality to confide in a friend.

“I’d say tell a good friend. Come out. Start the journey – it’s worth it in the end,” he said.

The wedding dresses of Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone and her late wife Ann Louise Gilligan worn at their wedding ceremony at Dublin Castle in 2018 and the rainbow flag used by activist Conor Kelly to counter protest against extreme pro-life groups demonstrating outside Irish hospitals during the abortion referendum will also go on display.

PA Media

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section